At the last Lit meeting a change to the advertised programme saw our president Douglas Allan give a fascinating account of three queens.
This trio of ladies did not wear crowns or rule at court but instead sailed the seven seas and had connections to Clydeside.
The first two were TS Queen Mary, launched on the Clyde in 1933, and the Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary built by John Brown at Clydebank and launched in 1936.
When the second of these much loved ships was named by the royal lady of the same name, the first Queen Mary had the number II added to her name.
Douglas had fond teenage memories of watching these grand ladies as they set out on journeys either ‘Doon the Watter’ or for far flung New York. He sketched in the history of the ships, showing slides of the opulent décor on board and quoting some of the amazing statistics of numbers of passengers carried and numbers of sailings made. Both ships saw service of sorts in WWII. The TS Queen Mary II took on providing service on the Clyde when many of her sister ‘steamers’ became minesweepers, and the liner Queen Mary became a troopship. She ferried Allied troops, remarkably carrying over 15,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers to Britain on one single voyage.
Neither of these Queens are now in service. With the introduction of jet flights across the Atlantic in the mid 60s, the Queen Mary became too expensive to run and she retired in 1967. There then followed a chequered career as a ‘non-sailing’ vessel in various places across the world, and she is now berthed in Long Beach, California as a museum and events centre.
The TS Queen Mary continued her service on the Clyde until retirement in 1977. Since then she has had various roles as a floating pub or restaurant, mostly on the Thames. In 2012 the charitable organisation, Friends of the Queen Mary, was formed and have managed to have her towed back to Greenock. Restoration continues and it is hoped she will become a static museum ship on the Clyde.
The last of the three queens Douglas described was the most recent – the Queen Mary 2 named by our present Queen Elizabeth in 2004. She was meant to be built on the Clyde but construction took place in France. At that time she was the largest and longest passenger ship afloat, designed for the luxury trans-Atlantic and world cruising routes. In May 2015 Douglas and his wife had the huge pleasure of being aboard the QM2 for a round Britain cruise, sailing up the Clyde to Greenock and culminating in the 175th Cunard Anniversary celebrations in Liverpool.
Douglas described the awesome experience of taking part in the ‘water ballet’ when the current three iconic Cunard Queens – Elizabeth, Victoria and Mary 2 met up. These huge ships made a synchronised turn in the Mersey, watched by tens of thousands lining the shore, lit by a huge firework display and overflown by the Red Arrows.
The Lit members thoroughly enjoyed a glimpse of both past and present ‘queens of the sea’.
The final meeting of the Lit this season is on March 13 – a talk on ‘Rothesay Pavilion Back to the 1930s’.